It looked nauseating from contact. It screamed wildly right and ricocheted through an array of cactuses and barged to the other side of a barbed-wire fence....

Written by L A Times,Washington Post | Marana (arizona) | Published: February 28, 2009 2:17:10 am

It looked nauseating from contact. It screamed wildly right and ricocheted through an array of cactuses and barged to the other side of a barbed-wire fence. This zany tee shot on No. 15 on Thursday epitomised Tiger Woods’s back-nine inconveniences,quashed the momentum he’d gathered by holing from a greenside bunker on No. 14 and deflated the din he’d created around the Accenture World Match Play Championship.

It also gave the loudest hint he would lose to the ruthlessly steady Tim Clark and exit in the second round,and that his noisy return to the PGA Tour after his eight-month absence would stall at two days and 32 holes.

From here,he will go … “To the airport,” Woods said after Clark beat him,4 and 2.

Just six tee boxes prior,he and Clark looked locked in a duel that figured to produce some Ritz-Carlton Golf Club theater. All square after 10 holes,it didn’t seem Woods would need to replicate his first-round blitz of JB Holmes in 2008,when he rushed from 3-down for his first step to the title.

Training the brain

Yet Clark,a South African ranked No. 33,13 days older than Woods,a six-time runner-up on the PGA Tour,and Woods’s victim in a 5-and-4 mangling in the second round in 2007 when Clark felt unprepared after coming off an injury,had learned to wire his brain properly Woods-wise.

“I think a lot of guys playing with Tiger probably try too hard or think about the fact they’re playing with him,” he said,“and it’s really just a case of realising that it’s just another round of golf.”

On Nos. 11 through 13,he hoarded half of his six birdies and snared a 3-up lead,tell-tale especially because Nos. 11 and 13 are par-fives,which on this planet generally tilt toward Woods. He hit all three greens in regulation while Woods hit none.

He also thought of Holmes,especially after what happened on No. 14,where Woods looked very much like Woods in the drama department,pitching from the bunker with a flawless two-bouncer that trickled squarely into the cup,reducing the deficit to 2-down.

No comeback

“I figured,well,here we go,it’s about to start now,” Clark said. “Again,I still calmed myself down.”

But then came No. 15,which Woods called one of “two bad shots in two days.” It sent him briefly hiking back through the prickly pears and saguaros until he learned it had gone out of bounds,grabbed the wood again,flipped his tiger club cover in disgust and trudged miserably to the tee for the retry.

“That was obviously a big break for me,” Clark said,even though Woods nailed the ensuing drive on the 343-yard par-four to 32 feet. Clark,heaping on the pressure,played a fine bunker shot to 17 feet,ensuring his two-putt would better Woods’s two-putt and make the score 3-up.

When his tee shot on No. 16 obeyed to four feet,all that remained would be Woods gamely trying to chip in from right of the green. Of course,he nearly did,the ball stopping at 13 inches with the line flawless,as Clark claimed “a massive victory”.

That ensured Woods would not join the prominent winners of the second round who must carry the 64-man event from here,including Phil Mickelson,Ernie Els,Geoff Ogilvy,Camilo Villegas,the Northern Ireland 19-year-old sensation Rory McIlroy,and the very nation of England,which sent to the round of 16 Luke Donald,Ian Poulter,Paul Casey,Ross Fisher and Oliver Wilson.

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